A military veteran is reflecting back on one of the most important battles in World War II. It’s been 77 years since Allied troops stormed the beaches of Normandy on D-Day.
Don Pullan was there on that day. Now the 97-year-old Salt Lake City native is looking back on the historic event. D-Day was a costly one for American and Allied troops. There were around 13,000 casualties and 4,400 dead in the initial assault on the beaches. Around 156,000 troops arrived to push back against the Germans in France.
Pullan arrived four days later on June 10, 1944. Pullan had been part of the 911th Air Engineering Squadron. He had the solemn duty of sifting through debris and battlefields for the wounded and dead. When Pullan arrived, Utah Beach had been quiet after the initial assault. But they still believed they might die.
“I looked at Del,” Pullan told Deseret News. Del Mercer had been his best friend in the War. “I said, ‘swim or drown?’ He said, ‘probably drown’ and we jumped in…From that point on we ran like crazy to get in.”
Pullan and his fellow servicemen were up to their chests and waists in water. Fortunately, no German soldiers shot at them on the crossing. In fact, they didn’t see any German resistance at all. But there were many bodies sprawled across the beach.
Veteran Injured in Line of Duty After D-Day
Unfortunately for the veteran, things didn’t stay quiet for long. After D-Day, Allied troops moved through Europe. They pushed from France all the way across the continent, pushing the Germans backward. Like a wave, the Germans receded as the Allies pushed them back.
By 1945, Pullan found himself in Kassel, Germany. He was among a group sent in to help liberate part of the Dachau concentration camp. But while there, Pullan was severely injured. He had stopped momentarily to take a photo of a local farmer in his field. But Pullan triggered a German landmine. The resulting blast injured both his legs and almost cost him his right one.
“I was just awful lucky,” Pullan said. “There were a lot of them in front of me that didn’t make it, and a lot of them behind me that didn’t make it. When those pieces of shell start flying, they don’t have anybody’s name on them, they just sail along until they catch somebody. And I do think the Almighty had his hand on me.”
Now at 97-years-old, Pullan is reflecting on the passage of time. Every year there are fewer and fewer WWII veterans left out there. In fact, there are only an estimated 250,000 out of 16 million still alive. Of the ones who landed on Normandy in D-Day, that number is less than 5,000.
“I hate to think about it,” he said. “I don’t think there’s many of us left.”
Pullan once returned to Normandy to reflect on D-Day back in 2006. The moment made him cry for all of his fellow soldiers who lost their lives during that year in Europe.
“I shed a lot more tears when I went back,” Pullan said. “We were trying to make the world free for all of us.”